Free-Range Kids

For School Kids in California, A Fight is Just a Fight—Not a Crime

In other words, a blow has been struck against the school-to-prison pipeline!



Great news out of California: An appeals court there just ruled that when two students get into a fight on school grounds, it isn't a crime for the courts to rule on—it's merely something the principal has to handle. In other words, a blow has been struck against the school-to-prison pipeline!

Bob Egelko in the SFGate has more on the specific details of the determination, which was reached by the First District Court of Appeals:

The case comes from Ukiah, where 15-year-old Fernando C. got into a fistfight with a fellow high school student behind a shed near the football practice fields one day in December 2012. Neither student was hurt, Fernando's lawyer said, but police referred the case to the Mendocino County district attorney, who charged the youth with the misdemeanor crime of fighting on school grounds.

It turned out that fighting on school grounds is a crime only for a non-student, and doesn't apply under state law to a student enrolled at the school. A juvenile court judge agreed to substitute the charge of fighting in a "public place." The judge found that Fernando had committed that crime and placed him on probation.

The First District Court of Appeals in San Francisco disagreed Thursday and threw the case out.

Juvenile Detention Center
Wikimedia Commons

A panel of three judges reasoned that student fights on school grounds should be subject to school discipline, not the juvenile justice system.

As Fernando's court-appointed lawyer said, "It's something that society at large is starting to recognize, that not every mistake a child makes in life is chargeable as a criminal offense."

Amen to that.

For more stories like this one, check out Lenore Skenazy's Free-Range Kids blog.

NEXT: Damon Root on Obama's Disappointing Year at the Supreme Court

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  1. Call me old-fashioned, but I think an aggressive act of violence against another person is precisely the type of criminal act our government should be prosecuting. Prosecutorial discretion is important and not all (or even most) will be charged, but this type of violence should not be granted immunity simply because it happens on school grounds.

    1. The distinction is who, not where.

    2. I call you an old-fashioned dipshit… only you are NOT old-fashioned. “Old-fashioned” people would see this as what it is – two teenagers fighting. It happens. Do we really need to make a fucking federal case out of it?

      1. When my dad, or his friends got in a fight at school one of the coaches would take them to the wrestling practice room. They’d put on boxing gloves and go a few rounds. That’s old fashioned.

        1. Nowadays the school would be sued by the parents.

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        3. Very civilized. In my school we went to the mat room and duked it out, no gloves. It sucked. Getting into a fight on the spur of the moment with adrenaline high and getting punched in the face is one thing. Walking for 2 minutes, getting set up, having no adrenaline going and getting punched in the face is really a lousy thing to have happen.

    3. Get rid of so-called impartial government criminal prosecutors. Leave all prosecution, both civil and criminal, to victims.

      Make sure losers pay all court and trial costs; that will cut down on vexatious litigators.

      And perjury, if proved, should be punished by the maximum sentence the perjury could have caused.

      1. Let’s do this instead. A thunderdome match between myself and Barack Obama fort he sake of all America. Me fighting for limited government, the constitution and real patriotism. Obama fighting for evil, Marxism, and unlimited government.

        Two men enter, one man leaves. Hand to hand combat to the death. Of course, I’m younger and FAR more physically powerful and trained than the beanpole in chief. So not much chance for the bad guys to win.

        Then we can set aside nonsense arguments as the one posed by this article and go back to the way things were in the old days.

        1. Are you our new agent provocateur? No one will fall for this, you’re being way too obvious.

          1. No, just having a bit of fun.

    4. Agreed, assuming one of the people involved wants to press charges. There are a lot of serious assaults that are just shrugged off as bullying.

      1. That should be the golden standard. No victim, no crime.

    5. Call me old-fashioned, but I think an aggressive act of violence against another person is precisely the type of criminal act our government should be prosecuting.

      This isn’t old-fashioned. And I think gov’t regulation of aggressive acts of violence has been far too successful.

      Call me old-fashioned, but I miss the good old days when someone who failed to pay a debt could earn themselves a punch in the face rather than a cap on their interest and forgiveness after 20 yrs.

      And really wish I was around for the good ole days when a liar running for public office could be run out of town on a rail and if you disagreed with the likes of Abe Lincoln or Alexander Hamilton, you could settle your disagreement with over swords or with pistols at dawn.

    6. No, it isn’t. Boys will be boys. That’s old fashioned. Not sending every high school kid who gets in a fist fight to jail.

    7. old-fashioned?

      I think not.

      Stupid, Senile, Infantile maybe

      Old -fashioned would be to give them a large detention and make them clean the gym.

    8. A principle foundation of justice is that the punishment should fit the crime. I know this irks some die-hard libertarians who think their rights as so sacred that any violation should be met with the harshest punishment, but they’re assholes, the Fred Phelps of the movement. Out here in the real world we must resort to common sense and not deliberate misreadings of Rothbard.

      A school fight between kids does not rise to the level of imprisonment and permanent socio-economic status of ex-con.

    9. But if they were both fighting, how can it be said either one committed an aggressive act of violence?

    10. What type of violence? I didn’t read details of the ‘type of violence’. You’re reading into it. It was two teens who got into a fist fight, end of story. Break it up, send them home, forget it.

  2. …that not every mistake a child makes in life is chargeable as a criminal offense.

    Bull fucking shit. Get them in the system early and often. Prosecutor resumes aren’t going to pad themselves.

  3. Horseshit. Two 5 year-olds having a scuffle on the recess yard? Sure. Two 15-year-olds? That’s assault and battery, and I don’t give a shit whether it occurred in a public park, a school, or on the surface of the moon.

    1. HM, no it is not horseshit.

      What are the specific facts upon which you rely in asserting “that’s assault and battery”?

      Did you read the court’s decision? Is there any declaration, never mind proof, that the appellant initiated force? Do you have information that the other kid did not start the fight?

      1. Moreover, there appears to be no evidence that any of the punches allegedly thrown landed. If that is the case, no battery.

        1. Even if I were arguing specifics as opposed to a generality, what you say is not true.

          Fifteen year-
          old appellant attended high school and had been “having some trouble” with another student. On the last day of classes before a holiday break, the two
          engaged in a fistfight behind an equipment shed near the school’s football practice fields. When interviewed by a police officer assigned to the school district, appellant admitted exchanging punches with the other boy.


          Point I’m making is that there is no “high school” exception to the NAP. If your average 15 year old could explain it, then I argue that they’re morally bound by it.

          Jus’ sayin’

          1. Yes, I agree that there is no high school exception to the NAP.

            Whether, on the facts presented, a DA man should introduce the two pugilists to all the creature comforts of the criminal justice regime is another question and one can ferociously support the NAP and yet, consistent with it, refuse to support criminal prosecution.

          2. I dunno. The fact that they met behind a shed suggests that the two agreed to settle their dispute with a good, ol’ fashioned, bare-knuckles boxing match. The only significant difference between that and two boxers fighting in a ring is motive (competition or money vs. conflict resolution).

          3. For those who have children, or are involved in the upbringing and education of children.

            Our jobs as parents and others in mentor roles is to progressively introduce increasing independence and responsibility to our children so that when they become adults (let’s say 18) they are already functioning at that level and can make good decisions for the balance of their lives.

            It is a given in this scenario, that children not considered to be adults, with infractions of behavior not indicating they are a threat to society at large, should be disciplined so as to satisfy the imperative to lead them to adult decision making.

            The NAP is an adult concept, and though a 15 year old should in fact be learning it on the road to adulthood, the difference between a 15 year old and an 18 year old is significant.

            Further, if these two young men MET behind the shed to “settle their differences” the NAP does not apply. It was a traditional, mutually agreed method to resolve an issue. Since they met there for the purpose of the fight, who is the aggressor?

            It might not be the best decision making, but it is not appropriate for law enforcement, it is appropriate for a detention.

          4. Wow. Even Libertarians have the Taliban.

            Who said it was okay? It is whether it is something that justifies throwing someone in prison, giving them a record, or giving them 3 detentions.

      2. Are you kidding me? For what it’s worth, I hope you notice that I make no mention of fault or even guilt specific to the case. But by definition, one person punching another with his fist as part of a “fistfight” is battery, no?

        1. Not if they both wanted to fight.

        2. Perhaps I heard a knee-jerk, impulsive expression without your usual attention to nuance.

          But, a punch must connect in order to constitute battery. Yes, I realized that the boy fessed up to fighting and that they had exchanged punches – but that does not necessarily mean that any punches landed. Thus, you should at least grant that my point is not far-fetched, what with all of the times we have seen NBA players attempt to throw punches and hit nothing but their egos.

          Assault, is, of course, another matter.

          1. If they were to say they were practices for a WFC match would it be battery, or assault? Of course not, if they mutually agreed to satisfy their differences in a fight then there is no crime.

    2. If they’re both prosecuted does that mean it’s victimless?

      1. Victimful.

    3. On the moon, nerds have their pants pulled down and they are spanked with moonrocks.

    4. It could have been consensual. Maybe even somewhat private.

    5. Then you’re an idiot. Boys need to throw down once in a while. Society worked a lot better when people still understood that.

      1. Totally agree, Suicidy. I grew up in a tough neighbourhood, where fighting was allowed. I had about 150 fistfights in school. I was a little guy, I was kind of gentle acting, and I got beat on regularly. I fought back. Very few people fought me twice. What sucks is I lost most of my fights.

        Nothing bad happened to me as a result of all this. If anything, I learned that some bad things can happen pretty easily, and you can get hurt, and it’s okay.

        Partly, I think this is why I am way, way tougher than almost all my friends in the important ways one needs to be tough as an adult. Partly.

  4. the Mendocino County district attorney … charged the youth with the misdemeanor crime of fighting on school grounds. It turned out that fighting on school grounds is a crime only for a non-student

    So, the DA lost his job, right?

    1. Mistakes a teen makes at school are punishable by hard time. Mistakes a DA makes in court are punishable by….well, nothing it turns out.

  5. not every mistake a child makes in life is chargeable as a criminal offense


  6. If they went behind the shed to settle their differences with some intimate touching the police would have stopped to watch.

    1. And then added them to the lifetime sex crimes database.

      1. or celebrated their courageous commitment to ‘diversity’.

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  8. Is Lenore Skenazy posting here? Or is H&R crossposting Skenazy articles from Free Range Kids? It’s good either way.

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